A common question that some amateur golfers seem to have a problem with.
Which Rules situations require the position of a ball to be marked and which do not?
An easy rule of thumb to assist you with this question is that when the ball is to be replaced at the same spot it was lifted from, it must be marked before it is touched.
The ball has to be marked before being touched:
- On the putting green, Rule 16-1b.
- For identification, Rule 12-2. Note that this is one of the most frequently breached Rules; you are not permitted to touch your ball in play to positively identify it without marking it first, even if you merely rotate the ball on its spot and do not lift it.
- Ball assisting play, Rule 22-1. Note that the ball-marker does not have to remain immediately behind where the ball was at rest. In order to avoid mental interference to the other player while the stroke is being made, once the ball-marker has been placed where the ball was at rest the player might measure one or two club-heads to the side, or even a club-length to the side, providing the routine is accurately reversed when it is being replaced.
- Ball interfering with play, Rule 22-2. (Note same as above).
- To determine whether relief under a Rule is available (e.g. whether a ball is embedded, or unfit for play), Rule 5-3 and Decision 20-1/0.
If a ball is not marked when the Rules require that it must be, the player incurs a penalty of one stroke and the ball must be replaced. If it is not accurately replaced before the next stroke is made at it, the penalty increases to two strokes in stroke play or loss of hole in match play, for playing from the wrong place, but there is no additional penalty under Rule 20-1. So, for example, there is no additional penalty if the ball was lifted because it was interfering with play of another ball, and then placed (or dropped) and played from a wrong place.
A ball does not have to be marked:
- When it has been deemed unplayable, Rule 28.
- When relief is being taken from an immovable obstruction, Rule 24-2.
- When relief is being taken from a (lateral) water hazard, Rule 26-1.
- When relief is being taken from an abnormal ground condition, which includes ground under repair, casual water and hole, cast or runway made by a burrowing animal, Rule 25-1.
- When relief is being taken from a wrong putting green, Rule 25-2.
- Under some Local Rules, e.g. relief from a staked tree.
There are occasions when the Rules do not require that the position of a ball is marked, but when it might be advisable to do so:
- Moving a movable obstruction, Rule 24-1. Note that if a ball moves while a movable obstruction is being moved it must be replaced, so it may be advisable, though not required by the Rules, to mark its position before removing the obstruction.
A ball to be lifted under the Rules may be lifted by the player, his partner or another person authorised by the player. In all these cases the player is responsible for any breach of the Rules, including not marking its position when the Rules require that it must be marked.
Of course you do not have to bother remembering any of the above regarding marking a ball before lifting it. If you take the precaution of always marking the ball before touching it you will avoid any penalty for getting it wrong.